Seismic Sound Bath

Christies King Street Gallery, January 2018

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Volcanic vibrations from various geographical locations took guests on a journey to the centre of the earth as part of a wellness ritual designed by Bompas & Parr for Christie's to celebrate its late-night opening with the premiere of the world’s most powerful sound bath.

The Seismic Sound Bath was conceived as a deliberately provocative foray into the world of senses and emotions - albeit one that is intrinsically artistic in output. Sound baths have stimulated imaginations for decades but only in the past year have they begun to approach the zenith of fashion, increasingly popular in meditation practices and recognised for their healing effects. Named “the most buzzling health topic” by ES Magazine and favoured among celebrities such as Victoria Beckham, Gwyneth Paltrow and Cara Delevingne, sound bathing is exploding in popularity across the world.

The science of sound baths is based on vibrations from gongs, singing bowls and tuning forks reverberating through the body and emitting frequencies that are said to restore balance and boost wellbeing. One of the most popular devices for generating sonic tones are quartz singing bowls made from the very minerals that comprise the earth’s crust. Yet before this, no one had attempted to draw a connection between the earth’s tectonic movements and the human body.

Guests to the Bompas & Parr experience underwent a meditative and metaphysical interaction that was coupled with elements of performance art. They were greeted in a 'rumbling room' broadcasting infrasound at 19 Hz - a frequency below the regular hearing threshold of human hearing but curiously the resonant frequency of the human eyeball. With equipment created by TPI Sound, the experience opened guests minds to the otherworldly – a 'cleansing' encounter designed to separate guests from their normal lives.

Next, a mysterious hooded figure invited guests to gather around a bubbling crater of volcanic stones before being instructed in a stone massage and tuning fork ritual.

Finally the sound bath itself saw guests stretch out on the ground and languish as a number of gongs, singing bowls and tuning forks were played by qualified gong practitioner and sound healer Martyn Cawthorne, known for his powerful and transformative performances. Additionally, seismic sounds provided an extra eery earthly 'orchestral' backdrop that spoke to the epic tectonic movement of the planet's surface.

Volcanoes and sound

The tectonic movements that the sound bath is inspired by have historically created the most powerful sounds ever heard on the planet. The eruption of Krakatoa, a volcanic island in Indonesia, in 1883 is documented as the most powerful sound on record. As one eyewitness, Captain Sampson of the British vessel Norham Castle, wrote: “I am writing this in pitch darkness. We are under a continual rain of pumice-stones and dust. So violent are the explosions that the ear-drums of over half my crew have been shattered. My last thoughts are with my dear wife. I am convinced that the day of judgement has come.”

Captain Sampson was only a few tens of kilometres from the Indonesian volcano. In fact the power of the eruption was so great that observers on the island of Rodriguez in the middle of the Indian Ocean 5,000 kilometres away also heard the explosion. Weather barometers around the world picked up the low frequency infrasound from Krakatoa and showed that its low-frequency waves travelled around the globe seven times – a distance of around 300,000 kilometres – before becoming too small to be detected.

Today, scientists monitor volcanic infrasound to help forecast and differentiate eruption types, supplementing measurements of ground vibrations made using seismometers. Working with a volcanologist, Bompas & Parr drew on feeds from New Zealand, Iceland and Japan to create sub-low basslines that allowed our guests to bathe in the sound of volcanoes; harnessing the power of the planet for the most compelling sound-bath too date.

Harry Parr, director of Bompas & Parr, said: "Rediscovering your sense of sound, and the profound effect of vibrations on your body and psyche, is a revealing way to interpret the powerful vibrations of our planet, and make for a revealing metaphor for an auction house as iconic as Christie's – something that is ever-present and that has an enormous impact on the wider arts scene, and thoroughly deserving of a fresh look."